Fishing Tips: Catching Vermilion Snapper (Beeliner Fish)

Unloading Red Snapper, Francis bay.
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From Cape Hatteras, NC, to as far south as Brazil, the vermilion snapper is a reef staple for both commercial and recreational anglers. Known in areas of the southern Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico states as beeliners, these fish are a charter captain's best friend. When other fish don't cooperate, beeliners fill the fish box.


Beeliners can be located over live bottom, ledges, drop-offs, reefs, and artificial structure. They identify with that structure and will remain over it as long as there are baitfish available for them.

Bottom Feeders?

Considered bottom fish by many anglers, they aren't truly bottom feeders. That's the reason that so many anglers fishing for beeliners have a hard time catching a limit. These fish are not bottom feeders.

How to Find Them

Bottom fishing in eighty to 150 feet of water over structure usually means dropping your bait to the bottom with a six- or eight-ounce sinker. After a couple of reels up off the bottom, you wait for a bite. Only an occasional beeliner will take a bait that close to the bottom, so you are relegated to grunts, pigfish, and seabass. Not that this is a bad thing, but if you are after beeliners, you are going to have a hard time.

Beeliners like to be higher in the water column. They feed midway in the water column, sometimes even coming to the surface. Like their close cousins, the yellowtail snapper, they school over a structure, not on the bottom around it.

Knowing how these fish behave helps us determine how to catch them. Essentially we need to put the bait where the fish are!

On a good depth finder, a school of beeliners will show up over the structure, midway up in the water column. Catching them is easy if you either stop your bait half way to the bottom or reel it half way back up after it gets to the bottom.

Occasionally a beeliner will hit a bait headed for the bottom as it goes by them, but the heavy sinkers more often send the bait past them far too fast for them to react.

The Best Kind of Tackle

One excellent method of catching beeliners is to use lighter tackle and a more natural presentation. Spinning tackle and ten-pound test line will catch more beeliners than any other method if you use some special tactics.

Remember, the record for this fish is a little over seven pounds, so we aren't talking about losing a monster fish on light tackle.

Take a half or three-quarter ounce jig head and tie it to a two-foot-long fluorocarbon leader. That leader is joined to your line with a blood knot, not a swivel. Flashy swivels attract other, toothier fish, and cutoffs increase accordingly.

Use a chartreuse grub tail on the jig head, and a small piece of bait -- either cut squid or small cut baitfish chunks. For some reason, beeliners seem to like the chartreuse color, and baits without the color generally catch fewer fish.

In It Goes

Allow the jig to freeline sink at its own rate. The bulkiness of the jig and bait combination slows the descent so that as it moves through the beeliner school, it will invariably be hit.

To use this method, you must be a line watcher. That is, you need to watch your loose line on top of the water as it slowly sinks. When a fish hits, the line will stop moving. At that point, reel up and set the hook. You don't feel a bite; you simply see the line stop. Sometimes a particularly aggressive beeliner will hit hard enough that you can see the line being bumped. Again, that means set the hook!

You must be aware that an occasional barracuda or amberjack will take your jig bait, and that can mean a long, exciting fight on light tackle -- a bonus in most angler's books!


Beeliners react aggressively and cooperatively to chum. You can actually chum them right to the surface behind the boat. At that point, simply casting a hook and small piece of bait to them will have your box filled with a limit in no time!

To work with chum, start by lowering your chum bag almost to the bottom. Every few minutes, bring it up 10 feet or so until you have it close to the surface at the stern of the boat. By now, the beeliners will have moved up with the chum slick, ready, willing and able to take any bait you put in front of them. This is a classic yellowtail method on the Florida Keys as well.

Next time you are on a party boat off the south Atlantic or in the Gulf of Mexico, try the "half-way-down" method and see if you don't start picking up more beeliners than anyone else. The charter captain may even stop by to see how you are doing it!